The Prime Day countdown clock is ticking down, and with all the media reports about what Amazon is doing to prepare (and what everyone else in retail is doing to prepare for those preparations), it might be hard to believe that there is news to be had outside of the Amazon-invented shopping holiday.
But while the big show is revving up, the race to bring more consumers into the fold is always running, and this week both Amazon and Walmart had some big moves in beefing up (or in Amazon’s case, creating) their in-store pickup operations.
As it passes into the history books, this was yet another busy week and clearly an on-ramp to a very lively retail sector for the next two weeks.
So where were the highlights?
Big Play of the Week: TayTay To Play Prime Day
In what looks to be a case of continuing to crib from the Alibaba Singles Day Playbook, Amazon Prime Day will not only be the summer’s answer to Black Friday — it will also apparently be a star-studded multimedia event.
And so Amazon is hosting a Prime Day Concert on July 10 in the lead-up to the fifth run-through of the now misnamed (Prime “Day” is two days long this year) shopping extravaganza.
Taylor Swift will be the headliner — but she won’t be alone. Fellow pop stars Dua Lipa, SZA, and Becky G will round out the lineup, while actress Jane Lynch hosts.
This isn’t Amazon’s first Prime Day concert — last year featured Ariana Grande, Alessia Cara, Kelsea Ballerini and Julia Michaels in the lineup. But with all possible props to Ms. Grande, Taylor Swift is a much bigger star and draw. Her Reputation stadium tour is the highest-grossing U.S. tour in history — a spot Swift had to bump the Rolling Stones to capture. She’s also a proven streaming commodity, having in the past presented a full length concert documentary for a New Year’s Eve release from Netflix.
It is move, analysts noted, that indicates Amazon is getting more sophisticated at building out the non-commerce parts of its empire — particularly its content streaming services.
“Amazon knows how to run a store,” Fred Seibert, founder of the production company Frederator Networks, told CNBC. “They’re walking toward how to make media work. If they can marry the two, everyone else in the media business will start to scramble.”
Speaking of getting others to scramble? Amazon’s ongoing war with counterfeiters carries on ...
Securing the Shop: Amazon Takes Counterfeiters To Court
Amazon has been fighting a long, and difficult, battle with counterfeiters that set up shop in its marketplace, and this week it seems that battle is going to a courtroom.
In partnership with Boulder-based company Nite Ize, a maker of specialty lights and phone mounts under the Steelie brand, Amazon has filed suit in a Seattle federal court, accusing a group of counterfeiters of selling fraudulent Nite Ize products.
According to the filing, the issue was brought to Amazon’s attention in October 2018 after a tip from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which had seized a shipment of 300 counterfeit Steelie brand car mounts. The agency alerted Nite Ize, which then alerted Amazon.
“Defendants have deceived Amazon’s customers and Amazon, infringed and misused the IP rights of Nite Ize, and harmed the integrity of Amazon’s store, and tarnished [Amazon] and Nite Ize’s brands,” the lawsuit said, according to reports.
All in, the suit names 11 individuals and businesses accused of selling the fake goods. The people were listed as living in Minnesota, Maryland and Ontario, while the businesses were based in China.
The lawsuit represents Amazon’s latest effort to take on the rampant counterfeit trade taking place in its online marketplace. In fact, the company even launched a suite of new tools this year to help brands and manufacturers go after counterfeiters.
“Each day, millions of consumers use Amazon’s store to purchase a wide range of products, across dozens of product categories, from Amazon and third-party sellers,” the company said. “Amazon recognizes that consumer trust is hard to win and easy to lose, so Amazon invests significant resources and effort into building and preserving its customers’ trust.”
In-Store Move: Amazon Joins Forces with Rite Aid
On might assume it would be difficult for Amazon to offer in-store pickup as part of its eCommerce offerings, since these days it operates a rather small number of shops.
But Amazon is all about thinking outside the box — and this week, the eCommerce giant announced it is adding a Counter option to make it easy for customers to walk into a store and pick up a package. Amazon is getting a little help from its friends at Rite Aid in this attempt: the new counter option will roll out at 100 Rite Aid locations.
“Overall, we want to give every Amazon customer the option of an alternative delivery location,” Amazon Hub World Director Patrick Supanc said, according to the report. “This will become an extensive network.”
Consumers will have a pretty standard eCommerce experience using this service, with the exception that when checkout time comes, they can choose to have their goods shipped to a store instead of their home. Once the items are in, the consumer gets an email with a barcode that lets them walk in and retrieve their items from staff. The service will be free for consumers.
Jocelyn Konrad, a Rite Aid executive, said in a statement per reports that the offering in addition to the eCommerce retailer’s Rite Aid store lockers make “a stronger in-store experience for existing customers and new customers that come in to pick up their packages.” Not to mention the chance to drive foot traffic.
According to the report, Supanc said the two firms were “not sharing any retail data with each other.”
The move comes shortly after announcements by Amazon that it is developing a similar counter pickup service in the U.K. and Italy in partnership with local merchants.
Big Play of the Week: SNAP Comes To All Online Grocery Pickup
Walmart has been experimenting with letting consumers who are part of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) use its online grocery ordering system since October of 2017. As of this week, Walmart has announced that it will be accepting SNAP at all of its approximately 2,500 pickup locations.
To use SNAP in combination with online grocery is much like the experience using any payment card. SNAP recipients place their order for the store nearest them, and at checkout click the EBT box for payment. When they arrive to pick up their groceries, customers present their EBT card to an employee, who swipes it and sends them on their way.
Walmart has long been an adamant advocate for serving low-income customers, saying that online shopping is not a luxury. The retailer aims to eventually expand the SNAP option to more than 3,100 stores by the end of 2019.
This Walmart’s second big SNAP-related move in 2019 — in April Walmart (along with Amazon, Dash Market and Safeway) took part in in a USDA pilot program to make it possible for consumers use snap cards in online payments.
Automated Investments: Walmart Buys Big Into Warehouse Robo-Vans
Self-driving cars get lots of space in this column — usually in the context of how Amazon or Walmart hope to deliver goods to consumers — but this week Walmart put autonomous tech to a different type of use.
Walmart will reportedly be partnering with Gatik, a self-driving vehicle startup, to test out a self-driving vehicle that will travel the two-mile route in Bentonville, Arkansas between two stores. If it works out, the robo-vans could be used to make deliveries between warehouses.
“We are working with city and state officials to obtain the approval we need to operate and plan to start the pilot program this summer with the aim being to learn about the logistics of adding AVs into our ecosystem, operation and process changes, and more opportunities to incorporate this emerging technology,” Spokesperson Molly Blakeman explained.
The move to bring automation to inter-Walmart deliveries, is critical, because it is often where the most inefficiency in the supply chain lives.
“This middle mile is the most expensive part of the whole supply chain; it’s a huge pain point,” said Gautam Narang, CEO of Gatik, according to Bloomberg. “This fills a big gap in the market.”
In fact, analysts predict that the market for transporting goods on a fixed route from warehouse to warehouse using driverless vehicles could reach $1 trillion.
What’s in a Name: Walmart and JetBlue Scuffle
In the last few weeks, Walmart’s Jetblack delivery service has gotten a lot of positive airplay. Customers love it, use it often and spend heavily with it. What's not to love?
Well if you happen to be JetBlue — the thing not to love is the name. In fact, JetBlue is taking Walmart to court in an attempt to force the retailer to change the name. The airline said the name is a “transparent attempt” by the retailer to take advantage of the goodwill of the firm, and would probably cause “significant consumer confusion” with the service’s United States expansion, Reuters reported.
“We respect the intellectual property rights of others. We take this issue seriously, and once we are served with the complaint will respond appropriately with the court,” said Randy Hargrove, a spokesperson for Walmart. JetBlue has offered no further comment.
The airline also noted that the retailer intended more infringements through the use of other names that include “jet,” including colors like Jetsilver and Jetgold, while getting closer to its core business through travel services. JetBlue also argues it has 43 federal trademark registrations dating back to before the company started offering transportation services.
The company is now one of the biggest airlines in the United States.
So what did we learn this week — other than the team at JetBlue is very, very sensitive to copyright infringement?
There is no such thing as a slow week in the race for the consumer's whole paycheck — no matter how hot, hazy or busily preparing for Prime Day the world is, there is always a lot more going on.